The first order of business with VSO Ethiopia has been to create an Action Plan that outlines my role with the organisation for the year ahead. Basically it is an opportunity to write the job that I plan on doing, and I have tried to be realistic and diligent in writing it.
The centrepiece of my project is achieving 10 general objectives. Each objective has a more comprehensive explanation of action that will be taken to achieve the aim.
Objective 3 is ‘Promoting inclusive education and diversity in the educational sector of the Afar Region’. The most glaring lack of diversity in Ethiopia’s post-secondary education institutions is in gender representation. In fact, girls are grossly underrepresented at all levels of Ethiopia’s education system except for early primary. There are many reasons for this: work, marriage, and financial strain are few worthy of mention. Another reason is the lack of toilets for female students. The argument goes that adolescent girls are unlikely to attend school without having a toilet to use.
VSO Ethiopia has facilitated the building of girls’ toilet at Sinble Elementary School in Asaita, Ethiopia. Last week my fellow volunteer Peter and I attended the ‘key ceremony’ for the girls’ toilet and the key was handed over from the contractor to the school officials.
The girls present at the ceremony expressed their happiness at having a new toilet to use.
Our visit also furthered achieving Objective 6 – ‘Building Community Relationships’. Handing over the keys in front of the toilet are teachers from the school, the principal and vice principal, as well as an official from the local woreda office. A woreda is a district in Ethiopia. Building a professional relationship with people in the community is to be accomplished through visits to local institutions, observing the learning conditions and giving these people and institutions a voice which they would otherwise not have.
The Sinble Elementary School that received a new girls’ toilet is housed in a fairly new building. Windows do not last long in this town. They are not really needed as the prevent what small amounts of breeze are around from getting into the classroom, but the glass shards that are left over do not look very safe for the students.
The new school does look like a more modern facility than what was there previously. The old schoolhouse may have had better ventilation than the new, but there is no electricity in this building and the teaching and learning resources are sparse.
Another planned action for completing a needs assessment of education institutions in the local region is to hold focus group discussions, and the visit to Sinble School provided the first opportunity to do this. Prior to the ceremony handing over the keys to the school administration we gathered with some female students at the College to hear firsthand how pleased they were to have a toilet block for themselves. The arrival of a new toilet block meant the end of a 200m walk to some bushes at the edge of the campus. As girls get older they get more and more reluctant to come to school under these conditions.
My contribution to the discussion was the insistence that universal female literacy is a prerequisite for development and that having half of a country’s population undereducated and underemployed is not doing anyone much good. I encouraged them to continue studying and expressed my hope that they graduate from high school and contribute to Ethiopia’s development. Peter explained VSO Ethiopia’s role in the project and did an excellent job promoting the organisation.
The male students at the school had noticeably more confidence (at least these ones did).
Another project that is underway here falls under the Objective for promoting diversity and inclusivity in the Ethiopian education sector. Girls are underrepresented in Ethiopian post-secondary education, and in an effort to help female Afar high school students to pass the university entrance examinations, VSO Ethiopia s arranged to fund extra tutoring sessions for the female students at the high school.
Monitoring this project provided another opportunity to visit a local institution.
The high school is in better shape than the elementary school. The facilities in the classroom were simply desks, chairs and a blackboard, but it was a classic classroom from a bygone era. The medium of instruction in Ethiopian high schools is English, and the students are expected to take all of their classes in this language.
I sat in on an English lesson. Since part of my mandate here is to promote student-centred pedagogy, it was a little painful to watch the teacher turn around and write two pages of a grammar textbook onto the blackboard and then to read it over with the students. But on the other hand, the teacher is teaching to a test, and the objective is to give the girls at the high school an opportunity to get into university.